After a two-hour long bus ride to the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Greenville, S.C., senior Lee McCall and his Indian Land teammates threw off their bags, took a deep breath and laced up for their first practice before today’s Upper State Championship.
It’s a nice hotel, McCall said Friday afternoon. If the Warriors can find their way past back-to-back defending Upper State champs Newberry, the team can continue their road trip next week in Columbia for the 2A state final.
“We’re pretty confident going into this,” McCall said. “We know how we can play, and if we do that, one hundred percent, we’ll get what we need.”
What they need is a win over a Bulldogs team (24-4) who’s earned their way into three straight Upper State championship games. While both teams enter Bon Secours Wellness Arena with long winning streaks, Newberry has been waltzing through the playoffs as of late, winning their last three by an average of 33 points.
“They can score a lot off their defense,” said Warrior head coach Nate Smith. “They can go real deep in the bench, but I feel like I can do that, too.”
Last year’s 2A state finalists lost to Lake Marion in Columbia’s championship game last year, but return nine seniors, all with playoff experience.
The offense (83 points per game in 2013-14) runs inside out by getting deep in the paint, but keeping options to kick it out to shooters, according to beat writer Kevin Boozer of the Newberry Observer.
“They score points in bunches, particularly with the transition game,” Boozer said. “The run and gun system wears the other team down.”
Indian Land (20-4) have earned their keep this postseason by spreading the scoring around as teams consistently double-team sophomore point guard Darnell Rogers. With Newberry’s tendency to pull full court presses, McCall is hoping he and fellow big man Quantra Taylor can dominate both on defense and offense.
“It’ll come down to limiting them scoring, because they like that,” McCall said. “Defense is the main factor, making sure their guards don’t involved. It comes down to us big men, boxing out, getting rebounds as needed.”
The victor of Saturday’s game will take on the winner of Ridgeland- Hardeeville and Lake Marion in the Lower State championship. Smith said yesterday that he and his coaching staff intend on keeping their Indian Land team (4-1 at neutral sites this year) fully focused on today’s matchup.
“We gotta keep them real focused on the game ahead and not anything farther,” Smith said. “We’re gonna take their cell phones and everything, make sure they get a good night’s sleep.”
Smith said some of the players had “some jitters” in yesterday’s practice at Wade Hampton High School, but says he has confidence his team will be game-ready by tip-off at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door for the general public.
“Mainly, it’ll be getting used to the atmosphere,” McCall said. “The floor, the giant screen scoreboard, not letting the crowd get to you. We’ve got two or three buses of our student section coming, so it’ll be good to have our main support.”
If everything goes right for the Warriors, they’ll have another chance to spend a night at a nice hotel—in Columbia, for a 2A state title.